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7 Questions with Clayton Frech
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7 Questions with Clayton Frech
Name: Clayton Frech
Current title: CEO & Founder
Current organisation: Ampla Institute
Mr. Frech is the CEO & Founder of the Ampla Institute, a career development firm that helps people find their optimal career path and unlock their potential. He is also the CEO & Founder of Angel City Sports and serves on the board of Move United and a number of high-growth start-ups and middle market companies. Over the course of his career, Mr. Frech has had leadership roles in the business, government, and non-profit sectors, managing organizations of all sizes, ranging from the equity-backed start-up to a billion-dollar global automotive services firm. Most recently Mr. Frech served as Regional Vice-President for Safelite AutoGlass, managing the $100M California Region with over 600 employees and 35 facilities. He has also held positions including Vice President of Operations and Sustainability, Classic Party Rentals, Managing Director, NextLeft Digital Strategy Consulting, and Organizational Strategy Consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers. Mr. Frech holds a BA in Economics from UCSB and an MBA from UCLA. He is an avid surfer and resides in Los Angeles with his wife, three boys, and labradoodle.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
I found the most challenging aspect of serving as a senior executive of a large enterprise was affecting cultural change. To build consistency in results, whether it be customer service, quality, profitability, etc, you have to embed cultural change within the organization. This ensures employees will always do the right thing and gives management some breathing room to focus on things other than the day to day service delivery. Having worked in a variety of service industries (tech, consulting, automotive, events, and sports), the culture of the org is even more important than in product industries.
So where do you begin with culture change? You have to start at the top and work your way down. Each leader, each supervisor, and ultimately each front line employee must buy-in to the culture, the vision, and the goals of the organization. But just as important as buying-in, they must walk the walk every day. This, I think, is where it gets really challenging. People can agree on a vision or strategy, but they often struggle to actualize it in their day to day work. For example, if you said you wanted to build an employee-centric organization, certain managers may not fully understand what this means and behavior in a contradictory manner to the goal of the organization.. This is where training (of all employees) and leadership development become critical.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My management journey starts back in high school and college. I managed restaurants, catering, and foodservice operations for many of my formative years and learned how to lead, manage, develop, train, hire, fire, and inspire employees.
I graduated from UCSB with a degree in economics and three years of economic research experience on a variety of environmental issues including ozone layer protection, global warming, bio-diversity, energy efficiency, and carbon taxes.
After college I explored careers in economic research and public policy (working in The White House and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
But ultimately, my love for management and desire to lead brought me back to school to get my MBA at UCLA.
From that point on, I built my management career step by step. Fresh out of business school, I initially went into strategy consulting at PwC. Then I helped start a technology consulting firm, NextLeft, and managed the Los Angeles office.
Then I took over LA operations for Classic Party Rentals, which was about $20M in revenue at the time. This was my largest P&L experience at this point in my career. Fortune would have it that Classic was on a growth trajectory and I moved over to the corporate team as the Vice-President of Operations and Sustainability. In this role I managed the integration of over 20 acquisitions across the country and was in charge of our East Coast operations until we hired a COO. At the peak, the East Coast region that I managed represented about $150M in revenue with close to 1,000 employees. This was an incredible opportunity to lead a multi-state service organization with dozens of retail and distribution facilities.
My next role was as the Regional Vice-President in California for Safelite AutoGlass. I initially took over Southern California that represented about $35M in revenue, and quickly added the Northern California operation as well. The combined P&L was close to $100M and had 35 facilities and well over 700 employees. What I loved about this role was that I had the opportunity to organically grow revenue and profitability for the organization. We developed a strategic plan to invest in people, product, and facilities to ensure we were the apex provider in each market across California. Our region went from being at the bottom of virtually all KPIs, including profitability, to being in the top quartile. I also managed a product recall crisis that was very successful in keeping our customers safe.
My leadership experience continues to this day, but in a very different form. I started a non-profit in 2013 and left the corporate world in 2015 to focus on it full-time. I also started a career development firm, Ampla Institute, to focus on helping senior executives identify their optimal career path that intersects with their passion, proficiency, and purpose.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Structuring my work day is a huge challenge as I have three young children, two business ventures, and a number of consulting / advisory clients.
Right now, I dedicate certain days of the week to each venture. I keep my afternoons free to ensure I can help get my kids to and from their sports and after-school activities.
I put everything I need to do each day into my calendar with the appropriate amount of time to accomplish the task.
I try to wake up early to do my morning meditation and get some exercise. I keep my mornings as flexible and open as possible, because this is my most productive time of the day. Most mornings of the week I start work by 7am.
I would say my weakness is booking things back to back. I always want to get as much out of my day as possible, but often my calls or meetings require follow-up and I often don't leave enough time for follow-up items.
When I was leading the $100M operation at Safelite AutoGlass, I was on the road a lot. I would typically spend four mornings per week in the various markets. I did my own work and checked emails in the afternoon. I left Friday's to catch-up on bigger projects that I was working on, including our Leadership Development Program that trained new leaders, 5 Year Strategic Plan, and the KPI Improvement Project.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I am constantly learning leadership lessons. However, the most significant leadership lesson I have learned over the years is to not get over-confident in yourself, your opinions, your performance, etc. It is important to stay humble, listen to everyone's perspective, and seek knowledge at every turn.
Over-confidence can cloud your perspective, alienate colleagues/employees, and ultimately create significant risk to your career.
Case in point, I was almost fired after giving a presentation to a room full of senior executives where I was not accurately reading the room. I was communicating in a way that was offensive and hurtful to many of those who were in attendance. I didn't understand the culture of the organization at the time, and made an assumption that folks wanted to hear my honest opinion about opportunities and challenges in the business. And I was terribly wrong.
Lucky for me, I was assigned an executive coach who I learned a lot from. She helped me slow down and plan out my communications much better than I had been doing previously.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
A book that has had a profound impact on my leadership so far is Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. It simply and elegantly describes how the brain works and how to move your focus from your saboteur brain to your sage brain in order to get the most out of life. This has given me great empathy for people who work for me, as I better understand their own saboteurs and allowed me to leverage my sage brain much more often when things get stressful at work. I would encourage anyone, regardless of their profession, to read this book!
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I actually have a lot of experience building leadership capacity in large enterprises.
With my senior leaders, I will spend a tremendous amount of time with them one-on-one. I feel like this is the most effective way to help them understand the vision, culture, and practices that they need to put into action. They also respond well to personalized time, where they get to set the agenda. I have learned over time that I can find teachable moments in virtually any setting, whether that is visiting an operation, attending a local market management meeting, or being out in the field visiting customers.
With middle management or aspiring managers, I feel strongly that they need to be surrounded by their peers as much as possible. They need to see excellent performance, attitudes, and behaviors at work. Thus, for management and management trainees, I put a tremendous amount of effort into regular training meetings with them. These training are especially important for the employees who aspire to move into management. It is critical for them to see that there is a career path, and what it is going to take to get into management. Once pointed in the right direction, they will turn into highly effective, productive, and inspired employees. This has a massive positive impact on the culture of the organization, and it is from the bottom up!
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
There was a time where my region faced a dangerous product crisis where we had to check with hundreds of customers to ensure their safety. At the beginning, there was some discussion about who would oversee the inspection program, whether it be my team or our vendor's team. Ultimately, I had faith that my team could pull it off quickly and effectively, so we took the program over. We didn't even really give the vendor the choice. What happened was amazing, almost miraculous. My entire management team, from all markets, converged upon the scene with their own team members, computers, printers, and resources. We set-up shop in a hotel in a fairly remote part of our region and got to work. It was one of the most stunning examples of team-work and keeping your customers safe that I have ever witnessed. We did our jobs with honor until we could sleep at night knowing our customers were safe. It was one of the highlights of my career, and due to the sensitive nature of what happened, it will likely never be written up in the business literature!